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Canadiens look to create distance from Maple Leafs

by Arpon Basu

CANADIENS (27-16-5) at MAPLE LEAFS (24-20-5)


Last 10: Montreal 5-3-2; Toronto 6-4-0

Season series: This is the third of five games between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs this season, but the first in Toronto. The teams have split the first two, with Toronto winning 4-3 on Oct. 1, the opening night of the season, and Montreal winning 4-2 on Nov. 30.

Big story: This is the second straight game in which the Canadiens have a chance to put some distance between them and a team chasing them in the Atlantic Division. Montreal won 5-4 in overtime at the Ottawa Senators on Thursday despite being outshot 44-23 and largely outplayed, thanks to the play of Carey Price.

The win gave Montreal an eight-point cushion on the Senators, and a victory in Toronto would put the Canadiens eight points up on the Maple Leafs with a game in hand.

Team Scope:

Canadiens: The Canadiens improved to 12-7-2 since Dec. 1 with their win against the Senators, but the game reflected some of the trends that have been plaguing the team since that date. In the 21 games since Dec. 1 the Canadiens have been outscored by 13 goals at 5-on-5 and by 10 goals overall. They have also been outshot 609-536, nearly 3.5 shots per game.

In spite of that, the Canadiens have increased their lead on the Maple Leafs over that span from two points on Dec. 1 to six points entering this game. While coach Michel Therrien is happy with where his team sits in the standings, he's cognizant of the fact Montreal needs to shore up certain aspects of their game.

"There's so much parity in the conference, you look at the standings and it's really tight. I believe it will be like that until the end of the year," Therrien told reporters after practice in Toronto on Friday. "They're all big games. For sure, we need consistency in the way we play."

Price will start in goal for Montreal.

Maple Leafs: Toronto received some bad news on the injury front Friday as coach Randy Carlyle disclosed that forward David Clarkson was placed on injured reserve and will miss at least a week. While his first season in Toronto has been a struggle for Clarkson, his loss creates another hole in the lineup Carlyle needs to fill.

One area that requires no tinkering is the top line of Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk, a trio that has been rolling since Bozak returned from injury on Dec. 29. In the nine games since then, Bozak has five goals and six assists, Kessel has four goals and seven assists and van Riemsdyk has four goals and four assists, meaning they've accounted for 13 of Toronto's 23 goals in that stretch.

"Tyler right now is our best fit [on that line]," Carlyle told reporters Friday. "He's played very well since he's been back. He's had a couple of speed bumps, but all in all he's been a go-to guy for us."

Who's hot: For the Canadiens, center Tomas Plekanec scored twice in the win in Ottawa on Thursday. … For the Maple Leafs, aside from the Bozak-Kessel-van Riemsdyk line, goaltender Jonathan Bernier has won his past two starts, and over his past three has a goals-against average of 2.61 and a save percentage of .930 while facing an average of 38 shots per game.

Injury report: The Canadiens are missing defenseman Davis Drewiske (shoulder), forward Alex Galchenyuk (hand) and forward Ryan White (upper body). Forward Lars Eller and defenseman Raphael Diaz missed practice Friday with cold symptoms. … The Maple Leafs are missing forwards Clarkson (elbow), Frazer McLaren (shoulder), David Bolland (ankle) and Trevor Smith (hand).

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